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Catalyst Klein will have Oregon defense on the run

by: COURTESY OF KANSAS STATE UNIVERSITY - Collin Klein, Kansas State quarterback, has carried the ball a lot while blending in the pass. SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Oregon Ducks have faced some athletic, dual-threat quarterbacks in recent years — guys like Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Terrelle Pryor, Andrew Luck and Jake Locker.

So, what does Kansas State's Collin Klein do better than, or as well as, any of them? The Ducks will find out in the Fiesta Bowl, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 3 at Glendale, Ariz.

For now, it's hard to argue against Klein being any less effective than the others, given his 49 rushing touchdowns and 28 passing TDs in the past two seasons.

"He's very good," UO defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti says. "He runs that offense efficiently. He's a poised guy. Appears to be a very smart football player.

"I've stated this a number of times: Mobile quarterbacks can extend football plays. ... He's the catalyst, that's for sure. The bottom line is you know that the offense is going to run through Collin Klein. He's the general. He's the guy that gets to call the shots."

Modest, humble, a great teammate — whatever you might want to call him, Klein disperses any praise for his Heisman Trophy-finalist senior season. He's a run-oriented quarterback who likes to throw the ball — albeit, on the run, and also with play-action. But, mostly, Klein does damage with his legs and smarts and physicality, and he gives much credit to the way the Wildcats block in front of him. He's not a lumbering giant at 6-5, 225 pounds, but rather a "long strider who waits for the hole and goes right up the middle," UO cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu says.

"He must have some type of speed," the Duck defender adds.

Collin Klein, what makes you an effective runner?

"God's given me athletic ability to move around," Klein says. "I probably get too much credit. Our team, our schemes, our coaches really facilitate those opportunities, as far as working hard with our blocking schemes, giving me the room ... it all goes hand-in-hand."

Klein believes he can beat defenders one-on-one, which goes in line with how the Ducks think: They will have to gang-tackle him.

Klein amassed an amazing 317 carries last season, for 1,141 yards and 27 scores. This year, given the Wildcats' more diverse offense (including running back John Hubert's 892 yards and 15 TDs) and coaches trying to put less burden on him ("just like on a car, mileage is mileage," he says), Klein has carried 194 times for 890 yards and 22 scores, to go with 66.2-percent passing, 2,490 yards and 15 TDs — with only seven interceptions — throwing to the likes of receivers Chris Harper and Tyler Lockett and tight end Travis Tannahill.

"He doesn't go down easily," Oregon linebacker Michael Clay says. "He breaks tackles, he's deceptively fast. He has great control of the offense, whether running or throwing the ball. We have to be ready for the run-pass and play-action."

With a running quarterback, "you just can't pin your ears back on third-and-7 and rush the guy. They all run quarterback draw, so you have to contain them, stay in our lanes ... get them in second-and-long and third-and-long, so they don't have the opportunity to run the quarterback draw. They'll have to pass. That's what we'll pride ourselves on doing, winning first down, winning second down, so it's third-and-9 and plus, so the quarterback draw is out of the question."

Klein, from Loveland, Colo., has evolved as a passer. He has an unorthodox throwing motion, but his numbers greatly improved from his junior year — 125.6 passer rating to 156.1 in his senior season.

"He makes tough throws that normal quarterbacks wouldn't make, especially on the run," Ekpre-Olomu says.

"Their passing game is a surprise element, but they do great running the ball to establish the pass," Ekpre-Olomu says. "They make it difficult on the defense, because they put the defense in a lot of 1-on-1 opportunities. That helps the offense, they want to find the 1-on-1 matchup. They want to expose the outside, but at the same time establish the run to get easy throws to get manageable downs. ... They just don't turn the ball over (10 turnovers all season), and they'll take the short yardage all the way downfield until they score. They'll run the clock out, if it has to be that type of game. A team has to make sure they capitalize on every opportunity they have."

So, expect the Duck defense, if K-State gets its ways, to play about 90 snaps with 40 minutes of time of possession. Good teams control games and beat the Ducks, if they can get defensive stops as well (see: Stanford, Nov. 17).

Says defensive lineman Dion Jordan: "We've got to get after (Klein). They have big linemen, and we've got to get off blocks. He does such a good job of managing the game. He doesn't make little mistakes. I feel if we get to the ball, disrupt the offense, shake him up a little bit, it's going to benefit us, trying to make him one-dimensional."

In their lone loss, the Wildcats gained 362 yards and scored 24 points against Baylor. Klein went 27 of 50 for 286 yards and three TDs, with two picks. He had only 39 yards rushing on 17 carries, with a score. The Bears burst to an early lead, took away Klein's effectiveness on the ground and made him pass.

"With any team, especially of Oregon's caliber, we're not going to be able to do just one thing. It's not that simple," Klein says. "We're going to have to win the line of scrimmage in both the run and pass game — protecting well, and being able to assert ourselves and run the ball."